We left Bangkok in late April, a few days after Songkran, Thai New Year, had ended. The Red Shirts had been protesting for at least a month when we left, and the situation was just starting to become strained. In one of our last days, we walked too close to the protestors and felt tear gas in our eyes. That was the night of the first deadly interaction between the troops and Red Shirts when a Japanese journalist was killed. The public transportation had been cut in certain sections of the city and the main shopping malls were closed.
Songkran was the perfect respite from the rising tensions. For three days, the protesters and military stopped everything and celebrated the new year and the traditional festivities including water fights and smudging strangers’ faces with wet clay. The holiday is encouraged by the city government who ensures that families receive enough water to use in the festivities. Years ago, water was used to give the elderly a blessing in the new year. The transition has transformed into dumping buckets of water over everyone as a gesture of goodwill and mischief.
Photo Credit: Wyndham
Our landlords drove us in their pickup truck around the Silom and Sathorn districts where we threw buckets of water at people on the street. In return, the eager participants threw water at us and shot us with water pistols. Thais would run up to the truck and smash our cheeks and foreheads with wet clay and laugh. I don’t remember the last time I laughed that hard. The most painful were the revelers who had prepared ice water to throw at drive-by participants. I will never forget the feeling of an unexpected bullet of ice water down my back. The event was so fun–it evoked the summer days running through the sprinkler as a child. And so many people–young and old–were involved. It was impossible to walk around the streets and not be a participant, especially as a farang–foreigner.